Big Brother Awards Germany 2014

By EDRi · April 23, 2014

On 11 April 2014 the fourteenth German Big Brother Awards ceremony was held in Bielefeld, Germany. The awards are organised by EDRi member Digitalcourage and the gala was streamed via the Internet and reported by print and broadcast media across Germany. Six “regular” awards were given, and for the first time, a “positive” award was featured as well.

The winner in the Politics category was the German Federal Chancellery (Bundeskanzleramt), which serves the German head of government (i.e. the Chancellor), coordinates government policy across ministries, but also supervises the foreign intelligence agency and any cooperation that three federal German secret services have with each other and with other agencies in Germany or other countries. The BBA jury therefore held the Chancellery responsible for German agencies’ close cooperation with the NSA and other “Five Eyes” secret services, the agencies’ own participation in the NSA surveillance scandal, and not least for the German government’s inaction and reckless negligence in failing to address violations of the German Constitution, and failing to protect German citizens and businesses affected by industrial espionage.

A Transport award went to MeinFernbus GmbH (approx. “My Long-Distance Bus, Ltd”) for obliging passengers to always show an official ID along with travel tickets they booked online, making anonymous bus journeys impossible, contradicting the German Act on Identity Cards. The only way of opting out is to buy tickets at the time of boarding, which is more expensive and carries the risk that all seats are already sold. MeinFernbus is not the only long-distance bus operator to require IDs in their Terms and Conditions. What singles this case out is the fact that they also assign themselves far-reaching and well-hidden rights to share data with third parties, especially if certain payment methods are chosen that involve a “partner” company, Billpay.

For the Technology category, no single “winner” was identified as the award went to “the spies in our cars”, highlighting technological and legislative developments that are gradually introducing full-time monitoring of movements and driving behaviour. One of these developments is “e-Call”, an automatic emergency call system planned by the European Union that will cause a SIM card to be carried by all vehicles. This system does not require the SIM card to be logged into a mobile phone network; it will therefore not necessarily create a trail of movement data. But car manufacturers are adding other services to this technology that do require a continuous mobile data connection. Apart from this, there are several systems present in modern cars already that function much like a flight data recorder, and car manufacturers mostly regard these data as their property, giving themselves the right to read and share this data at various points, most prominently when the car is serviced in an authorised repair shop. Another point of concern are on-board computers, which increasingly use the Android mobile operating system and expose driving-related data to Google and other providers for the purposes of localised information, retrieving the car after a theft, and more.

The award in the Business category was given to CSC (Computer Sciences Corporation), which is currently working on commissions by 10 Federal German Ministries on security-related projects, such as the electronic identity card, the De-Mail project for exchanging legal electronic documents, and the nation-wide firearms registry. At the same time, the parent company functions as the external IT department of US secret services, it has organised rendition flights for the CIA, and the company has so far refused to sign a “Zero Tolerance for Torture” declaration by Reprieve, a UK-based human rights organisation. CSC have variously portrayed their German operations as either separate from or well connected with the US headquarters, depending on what would suit the intended message, but there is evidence for close integration throughout the company and with US and British intelligence agencies.

The Workplace category highlighted the use of surveillance software to monitor call centre workers, focusing on a case where such software is being used by subcontractors of RWE Vertrieb GmbH, the sales subsidiary of Germany’s second-largest energy utility company. The software in use can produce a continuous record of conversations and desktop activities without the workers’ knowledge, and the software maker is Verint, which also produces monitoring technology for secret services such as the NSA.

In the Consumer Protection category, the award went to LG Corp. because their “smart” TV sets transmitted detailed information about what people were watching to the company’s servers in South Korea, via the Internet, including any tracks that users might play from a connected USB device. This was recently discovered by a blogger who also found a relevant setting in the setup menu, but even deactivating this setting did not stop the transmissions.

Not a regular award, but by now a traditional feature of the German Big Brother Awards is the Newspeak award. This year’s contribution highlighted the term “metadata”, reminding us that even though these data do not reveal the actual contents of our communications, they reveal what we do – and this allows deep insights in what we think, where we go, and what we intend to do.

For the first time ever, a positive award was included this year. The “Julia and Winston Award” was named after the “rebellious” main characters in George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984”, from which the “Big Brother” concept is also taken. The award is to honour persons who have taken an extraordinary stand against surveillance and data collection mania. The winner of this year’s Julia and Winston awards was Edward Snowden. A response was received and played during the gala in the form of a “thank you” video by Jacob Applebaum. The award comes with an endowment of one million – not one million Euro, but one million stickers calling for asylum to be granted to Edward Snowden in Germany. Digitalcourage is sending these stickers free of charge to any volunteers in Germany, asking them to display the stickers in prominent places and document these by emailing images to Digitalcourage and share them on social networks using the hashtag #Snowden.

Big Brother Awards Germany (coverage in English and German)

Digitalcourage shop for ordering Snowden stickers

(Contribution by Sebastian Lisken – EDRi member Digitalcourage – Germany)